The government is to set new targets for the appointment of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people to the boards of public bodies.

The new measures, intended to ensure that representatives reflect the wider population, do not mention sexual orientation.

Harriet Harman, Secretary of State for Equality, said:

“Our ultimate aim is to have fair representation of women, black and Asian, and disabled people at every level of our democracy, including in public bodies.

“I’m going to keep a sharp eye on appointments made by each government department.”

At present 34.4% of public appointees are women. The government intends to increase the number of women appointees to at least 40% by 2011.

The Government Equality Unit provided figures for ethnic minority representation (6% out of 11% of the population) and disability (5% compared to one in five of the working age population with a disability) but none for gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans people.

Derek Munn, head of public affairs for gay equality organisation Stonewall, said:

“Given the government’s aim of extending equal protect to sexual orientation, Stonewall expects this to apply in every area of the government’s work and public appointments are no different.”

There are around 18,500 people on the boards of 1,200 UK public bodies.

They include non-departmental public bodies, Primary Care Trusts, NHS Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities and certain national public corporations.

They carry out a wide range of functions, from funding the arts, sports and sciences, safeguarding the environment, and protecting the rights and interests of consumers.

Cabinet Office Minister Ed Miliband said:

“It is essential that the people appointed to these bodies reflect the country we live in and the public they serve.”

Other steps include giving the Commissioner for Public Appointments a stronger diversity remit, with the power to take steps to encourage and increase the number of women, disabled, and minority ethnic appointees.

The new Equality Bill published last month included proposals for all public bodies to promote equality for gay and lesbian people.

The Bill is intended to be an extension of the current duty on public authorities to actively promote equality into services like fostering, magistrates courts and health clinics, to make their services more accessible to lesbian, bisexual and gay people.